Archbishop Tutu speaks out against racism in visit to S.C.


CONWAY — Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke against racism Feb. 18 at Coastal Carolina University as a local group reignited a passionate opposition to the Confederate flag flying above the Statehouse in Columbia.

The speech, included in a Celebration of Inquiry Conference, was part of the William A. and L. Maud Kimbel Distinguished Lecture Series, established in the early 1980s with an endowment fund. Other speakers included National Public Radio’s Bob Edwards in 1998, former Middle East hostage and Associated Press correspondent Terry Anderson in 1996 and Carl Bernstein, former Washington Post and ABC News correspondent, in 1994.

On Feb. 18, the Myrtle Beach Sun News ran a color ad with the Confederate flag by J.F. Burgess, “Concerned Southerner,” of a group called The Initiative. The ad quoted Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederate States of America and asked, “Would you welcome Bishop Tutu with this flag?”

Archbishop Tutu declined to comment on the matter and was not made available for interviews. There was no question-and-answer period after his speech.

The former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town was born Oct. 7, 1931, in Klerksdorp, a town in the Western Transvaal, 70 miles west of Johannesburg. He became a Nobel Peace Laureate in 1984, and in December that year, in Johannesburg, the archbishop called the policies of President Ronald Reagan “immoral, evil and totally un-Christian.”

“South Africa was on the brink of a catastrophe,” he said. “We were in a real pickle. The world saw veritable miracle unfold before their very eyes.”

Archbishop Tutu thanked the audience for their assistance. “You prayed for us to uphold us in some of the darkest moments of our journey,” he said. “Students were involved as well. It was heartwarming to the ‘nth’ degree, and their passion was so intense.”

When Archbishop Tutu won the Nobel award, President Pieter Botha of South Africa had no comment concerning the archbishop, the then secretary general of the South African Council of Churches. In June 1998, he challenged Botha to apologize for the pain apartheid caused.

“We think that God has a sense of humor,” said Tutu. “You realize that we have an extraordinary capacity for evil.”

Archbishop Tutu is also a member of the Advisory Council of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan international educational organization. The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s vision is a world at peace, free of threat of war and free of weapons of mass destruction.

“War is for the birds,” said the archbishop. “We ought to beat our swords into plowshares.”

He then talked about an event that has again made international headlines recently — the murder of activist Steve Biko, who died in September 1977, naked and shackled on a dirty police hospital floor in Pretoria. The leader of South Africa’s Black Consciousness movement was beaten in Port Elizabeth 700 miles away and driven to Pretoria after being denied medical treatment.

Archbishop Tutu discussed “full disclosure,” which was required by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a panel that investigates violations. Former prisoner Nelson Mandela appointed the archbishop to the commission in 1995 to probe human rights violations between 1960 and 1994.

Five police officers recently announced through a lawyer they were ready to admit “culpable homicide” in Biko’s death in exchange for a pardon.

“Archbishop Tutu has documented his vast experiences and provided the world with hope and inspiration,” said Ronald R. Ingle of Coastal Carolina after the archbishop’s presentation.

Many local legislators attended including State Sen. Maggie Glover, State Sen. Luke Rankin and State Rep. Mark Kelley, a Hibernian who presented Tutu an award from the S.C. House of Representatives. The event was sold out with more than 700 attending.

Gov. Jim Hodges’ addition to the program was so late that the programs were reprinted the day of the event.

“Back in the late 1970s when I was finishing my college years at the University of South Carolina, a name was thrust on the international scene, a name that became a symbol of peace, a symbol of bravery, a symbol of excellence and a symbol of moral leadership in the world, and that name is Desmond Tutu,” said Hodges.

After the speech, Hodges described how he feels about the Confederate flag above the Statehouse. “The same way I always have, the same position I’ve always taken on it,” he said on his way to his car. “I think that the problem is that there are hard feelings in the legislature that exist over that, and it’s made it very difficult to be able to bring any reconciliation on the issue there. I don’t expect that you’re going to see much legislative action on that anytime soon.”

Hodges defended his position on the flag before a national audience on C-SPAN Saturday morning at a national governor’s association meeting.